“Mathematics is adding BRL 455 billion a year to the nation’s wealth. However, if it contributed 18% of GDP, as it does in France, for example, the value added would be BRL 1.782 trillion. The difference is BRL 1.327 trillion,” Viana said (*photo: Daniel Antônio / Agência FAPESP*)

2024 FAPESP Lectures

Mathematics-intensive professions are expanding worldwide, but Brazil still lags behindThe fifth 2024 FAPESP Lecture asking “How much is mathematics worth to Brazil?” was delivered by Marcelo Viana, Director General of Brazil’s National Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IMPA).

2024 FAPESP Lectures

Mathematics-intensive professions are expanding worldwide, but Brazil still lags behindThe fifth 2024 FAPESP Lecture asking “How much is mathematics worth to Brazil?” was delivered by Marcelo Viana, Director General of Brazil’s National Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IMPA).

*photo: Daniel Antônio / Agência FAPESP*)

**By José Tadeu Arantes | Agência FAPESP** – Activities that make intensive use of mathematics account for 4.6% of Brazil’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 7.6% of its jobs. These jobs pay double the nationwide average wage and are more resilient than many at times of crisis.

These findings from a groundbreaking **study** conducted by Itaú Social in collaboration with Brazil’s National Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (**IMPA**) were foregrounded by mathematician Marcelo Viana in the fifth FAPESP 2024 Lecture, entitled **“How much is mathematics worth to Brazil?”**.

IMPA is a research institution and graduate school with links to the Ministry for Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) and the Ministry of Education (MEC). Viana is a researcher at IMPA, where he is also Director General. He specializes in dynamic systems and chaos theory. He is a former President of the Brazilian Mathematics Society and a former Vice President of the International Mathematical Union (IMU). He is the first Brazilian and the first mathematician, with François Labourie, to receive France’s highest science distinction, the Louis D. Foundation Scientific Grand Prix (http://www.grands-prix-institut-de-france.fr/fondation-louis-d), from Institut de France.

“I’ve done a few sums to help you understand what we’re talking about. Brazil’s GDP in 2022 was BRL 9.9 trillion. The effective contribution of mathematics corresponded to 4.6%, or BRL 455 billion. The percentage is small compared with the advanced countries, but BRL 455 billion is by no means small change for us Brazilians. Mathematics is adding BRL 455 billion to the nation’s wealth. However, if it contributed 18%, as it does in France, for example, the value added would be BRL 1.782 trillion. The difference is BRL 1.327 trillion,” Viana said, pointing out that the amounts in question are annual.

“That difference is a gold mine, an opportunity to take action to produce at least part of this resource, which right now is lying idle.”

His presentation focused on the role universities can play to help achieve this goal and enable Brazil to rank alongside the developed countries as far as the economic contribution of mathematics is concerned. This role is two-pronged, involving training and knowledge transfer to the productive sector, he added, stressing that the academic community must venture out of its ivory tower. “The vast majority of companies haven’t the slightest idea of what to talk to us about. They don’t even know it’s worth talking. We must show we’re open to dialogue,” he said.

Referring to the **Occupational Outlook Handbook** published in the United States by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Viana noted that overall employment of mathematicians and statisticians in the U.S. is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations between 2022 and 2032. In Brazil, he said, the trend in academic qualifications does not match what the market wants.

“Our higher education is expanding, which is good, but it isn’t expanding well. The relevant point, which is positive, is that 19.7% of Brazilians are university graduates and that although this is still low compared with the developed countries, it’s more than double the proportion at the start of the last decade, which was 7.9%. On the other hand, the numbers of undergraduates and graduates are rising in the wrong places. According to INEP [*the National Institute for Educational Research, an agency of the Ministry of Education*], student numbers have been highest for a decade in pedagogy [*education*], business management, law and nursing,” he said.

Students in these courses are being sold a mirage, he continued, because very few jobs are available for people with these qualifications. “For example, if you have a degree in business management, the probability that you’ll practice the profession is 3.4%. The situation is almost as bad in the other areas I mentioned: pedagogy 15.5%, law 8.9%, nursing 7%,” he said.

The problem is not confined to higher education, according to Viana. Citing an article by Fernando Paixão and Marcelo Knobel, professors of physics at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), he noted that the reason Brazil trains far too few engineers is not lack of engineering courses but because so many high school students fail to achieve adequate proficiency in mathematics. While 38.1% of students in Australia are top performers in the PISA mathematics test, 43.3% in Canada and 51.8% in South Korea, the proportion in Brazil is only 3.8%. **PISA** is the Program for International Student Assessment run by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

“This is generally seen as an educational problem. I agree, but above all, it’s a strategic problem for the nation. Without professionals trained to use mathematical tools in pursuit of solutions to real problems, there can be no development,” he said.

Displaying a graph of trends in master’s and PhD enrollment by discipline between 2015 and 2022, Viana noted strong growth in human and social sciences, practically zero growth in health, and a sharp fall in exact, biological and agrarian sciences as well as engineering.

“I’m not comparing professions in value terms, I’m talking about the country’s needs. This shows we’re moving in the wrong direction,” he said.

The problem was intensely discussed in the Q&A session. **Marco Antonio Zago**, President of FAPESP, was in attendance and stressed that this highly alarming situation is part of a wider picture of falling enrollment in graduate courses and even in undergraduate courses, where numbers are down 16%.

**Esther Império Hamburger**, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s School of Communications and Arts (ECA-USP), noted that “changes in professional options are linked to very profound transformations that are taking place in the world”.

In response to a comment that mathematics is still “a bogey” for many students, Viana said, “We must tell students what mathematics is for, show them it’s useful and makes sense, and that it’s fundamental for the development of our country,” he insisted.

Zago opened the event, which was moderated by **Oswaldo Baffa Filho**, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s Ribeirão Preto School of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters (FFCLRP-USP), and **Paolo Piccione**, a professor at the Institute of Mathematics and Statistics (IME-USP).

A video of the fifth 2024 FAPESP Lecture “How much is mathematics worth to Brazil?” can be watched on **Agência FAPESP**’s** ****YouTube channel**.

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